Looks like I’m eating my words today. Back in July, we kicked around the idea of device-specific, mobile-friendly websites. I said I’m not a fan, although I’ve obviously been using these sites for the past 20 months with my iPhone.
I’m starting to have a change of heart, because there’s an excellent use for mobile-friendly websites: On a netbook.
Like many handsets and other smaller devices, netbooks typically face a visual challenge with the web. Most netbooks offer a screen with 1024×600 resolution, which adds a fair amount of extra scrolling to browsing activities. The web is certainly usable at this resolution, but it’s less than optimal. Every browser I can think off offers zooming capabilities and font size settings for those that need them, but I got tired of tweaking. So a few days ago, I started hitting up the mobile-friendly versions of sites I routinely visit. What a joy.
Some of these versions are often far more readable, have less clutter and are simply easier to use in my opinion. Everyone is different, so I recommend trying this for yourself. You don’t need to make any major commitments here: I suggest working for a few hours in a mobile-friendly site on your netbook before changing your bookmarks.
Let me show a few examples of what I’m seeing, so you can decide if this is worth your effort. For starters, here’s FriendFeed, which I typically leave open all day long. The first pic is the standard site while the second is the site formatted for the iPhone. This probably isn’t the best example, but the mobile site has slightly larger text. I see benefit when there are long comment threads because the left sidebar is removed in the mobile version.
Let’s take a look at Twitter, where you can really see a difference: I can read many more tweets using the mobile version on my netbook. I miss out on seeing avatars, but (and I know this will be a huge shock), I don’t go there for the pretty faces. Sorry Michael: You just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time! ;)
With the straight mobile version of Twitter, you lose the ability to reply, but it’s great for content consumption.
Not everyone is into the social scene, so how about a typical Google search for netbooks? Although I see prominent product links and ads on both the normal and the mobile version, I only get two results on the standard site. The mobile site offer three search results and two news bits.
These are just a few examples and to be honest, not every mobile-version of a site works better on a netbook. For example, I like the full version of Google Reader on my netbook screen over the mobile or iPhone version. The navigation and keyboard shortcuts in the full version get me around my feeds far faster.
I recommend experimenting to see which you prefer. Often, the mobile site URL is a variant of the standard URL: Typically, you’ll see an “m” or “iPhone” before or after the URL. Here are the examples used above:
- FriendFeed standard: http://www.friendfeed.com
- FriendFeed for iPhone: http://www.friendfeed.com/iphone
- Twitter standard: http://www.twitter.com
- Twitter mobile: http://m.twitter.com
- Google standard: http://www.google.com
- Google mobile: http://www.google.com/m
I’ve come to appreciate the mobile-friendly sites far more than I did before; mainly because I’m using them in a different way on my netbook. Give them a try on your small screen and see what you think. If you want to completely go with mobile sites on your netbook, you might consider changing your browser’s User Agent String so Twitter thinks you’re visiting from an iPhone. Here’s how to do it in Google’s Chrome. There’s also a Firefox extension for Firefox users to accomplish the same thing.